Finding Your Park: Hiking in Blackhand Gorge


Madeline Walker


Let me set the scene for you: It was about a month ago and I was driving down Lancaster road with my friend Jenna on the way back from a trip to Rising Park. It had been a warm Sunday afternoon and the leaves fluttered bright orange and crimson in the trees around us. The sun was dipping low in the west as we entered that golden time of day. Looking out the window I saw a sign that read “Licking County: Land of Legend.” I paused to think about that sign. For many our home in central Ohio may seem ordinary, and maybe even boring. But for those of us who know it best, it’s a treasure trove of natural wonders, it’s a place of endless possibility. That’s when I came up with the idea for this column. Welcome to Finding Your Park, a column by me, Madeline Walker.

For the first edition of this column, I took my friend and fellow nature enthusiast Jenna Hyman with me on a trip to Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve. This preserve is only about a 25 minute drive from Granville and sits northeast of Newark off of Toboso Road. Trails run along both sides of the Licking River, past historic Blackhand Gorge. The gorge was named after the Blackhand Petroglyph that was originally found on the side of the cliff. It is storied that the black hand was painted by Native Americans after a duel involving a chief’s daughter and her two suitors.

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It was a cold morning and foggy too. We got there early and started out on the bike path. We stopped a couple times to view the frost on the leaves, and the water lazily flowing down the river. On a warm day, Blackhand Gorge is usually abuzz with hikers, bikers, and adventurers alike. But this Sunday morning, offered a new perspective of the trail. The quietness of the lonesome path was peaceful. We turned left onto trail B and walked through the lowlands surrounding the gorge. These were filled with barren trees and sprawling shrubs that held onto their last bit of color. The true excitement began as the trail started to elevate. The first view of the gorge was breath taking, and was certainly worth the hike. We took the time to enjoy the enormity of the gorge and the calm water below it. It was clear to us why Blackhand gorge has such a formidable reputation.

As the sun rose further in the sky, the frost on the tree branches began to melt and fell on our shoulders like rain. We were thankful for the warming of temperature and looked forward to seeing the preserve on the other side of the river. We headed back towards the parking area, and spotted a group of hikers on a cliff on the other side. “Marco!” I yelled. Only a wide smile and the wave of a hiking stick were returned, but I felt the sincerity of a fellow lover of nature, in their element.

Getting to the other side of the preserve only takes a good 2 minute drive to a gravel parking area across the bridge that spans the river. To the left of the trail stand ruins of the old Ohio Erie Canal. Moss grew on the rocks and gave off an ancient vibe. The woods were less thick on this side of the river and offered a clear view of the shoreline.

As the trip came to a close Jenna and I discussed the sights we’d seen that day. Little did we know, one of the most unique features of the preserve laid ahead of us. We came upon the old railway tunnel. A tunnel carved in rock that once allowed trains to go through the towering cliffs. The entrance to the tunnel seemed hulking and very enclosed in comparison to the wide open spaces we’d seen previously that day. With a cave-like aspect to it, our voices echoed and bounced around on the walls. It was very surreal to run my hands along the side of the tunnel, and to think about how well history was preserved at Blackhand Gorge.

We returned back to the car tired and hungry, but content after a long day of outdoor escapades. My purpose in writing this column is to showcase some new places you might not have known were so close to where we live. I hope to encourage you to get out there yourselves. The possibilities are endless and always remember, adventure is out there waiting for you!